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Wilma Rudolph Learning Center originally opened in 1908 as Chicago’s first public school exclusively for children with disabilities. It had interior ramps for wheelchairs to access all floors, including the roof, which contained the playground. Today, the school still serves as a facility for children with disabilities aged 3-14 but there was no playground on site. As the prime consultant, Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture (JOLA) worked closely with the Principal, stakeholders,and CPS to design this new 3500 SF playground carved out of a linear landscape area behind the school. Exceeding standard ADA accessibility, the playground is fully inclusive and features the school district’s only swing made for children in wheelchairs. The swing is accessed from a mid-station landing at the new ramp leading out from the building. JOLA led the full design team in universal design principles, including the Architect and Structural Engineer for the ramp design and the Civil Engineer for the challenging grading, especially at the swing. It was critical to provide an environment where everyone can join in no matter age or disability. Some of the inclusive play elements include a see-saw with generous seats for easy transfer, interactive play panels and musical instruments for sensory stimulation, a variety of ground level play and gathering spots including cozy, quiet spaces for kids who may be overstimulated and lots of shade. The rubber surface pattern of different colored paths complements the interior flooring pattern simulating the colors of the “El” lines. There is also a seating area with accessible benches and new fencing.


"The kids are really enjoying the playground. The seesaw is a huge hit! The kids also really enjoy interacting with all the pieces that move like the wheel and gear panels."

-Interim Principal, Rudolph Learning Center

Photography by All-Bry Construction



In 2019, Space to Grow, Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands selected Jesse Sherwood Elementary School to be a part of their schoolyard renovation program. This program transforms schoolyards into outdoor learning and play environments that help reduce neighborhood flooding. The main goals are to promote wellness through physical activity, connect to nature through gardens and outdoor classrooms, and provide green infrastructure to capture and manage stormwater in a way that exceeds city code. Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture (JOLA) guided the programming and concept design phases using stakeholder feedback to determine programming needs and to present initial concept plans. JOLA then refined the concepts to incorporate community and client feedback, arriving at consensus with the final layout. The design includes a 2-12 year playground, running track, artificial turf field and play mound, basketball court, nature play area, outdoor classroom, entry plaza with seating to welcome the community at large, edibles garden, rain gardens, and interpretive signage. JOLA worked closely with the civil engineer to ensure the layout provided a means to capture the amount of stormwater required whether by storage underneath permeable surfaces like the rubber surfacing in the playground or in the rain gardens with water tolerant native plantings. The kids, teachers and community alike are fully enjoying their new schoolyards while helping to alleviate flooding.




Park 584 is a 0.37 acre park in the West Pullman area of Chicago.  As the Prime Consultant, Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture (JOLA) led a team of design consultants to provide a universally accessible playground with 2-5 and 5-12 year play structures, fitness equipment, a picnic area with an overhead shelter and an open grass field. Initial concept designs were shared with the community and the Alderman and a final design was created, incorporating all stakeholder feedback. Following CPD standards, the park also includes concrete pathways and plazas, lighting, ornamental fencing, a drinking fountain, engineered wood fiber surfacing and new shade and ornamental trees. As the project was financed, in part, with funds from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Program” grant program, the design also met the parameters set out by the grant and was vetted at each stage of the project. Careful attention was paid to the design details including a strong geometry at the main entry accented by the scoring pattern through the center of the shelter and a closely coordinated color palette between the various manufacturers of the fitness equipment, play equipment and overhead shelter.




Peterson Elementary School on the Northwest Side of Chicago was in dire need of improvements to its recreational field. The grass play space continually flooded and was unusable after a heavy rain. Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture led the concept design phase with the Architect of Record to maximize play space while maintaining the majority of existing mature trees. Through close collaboration with the entire design team, including meetings with the school principal and committee members, the final design includes a 25,000 sq. ft. turf field with underdrainage surrounded by a running track and an expansive nature play area. The kids can now play ball in the rain and enjoy a dynamic play space with vertical tree features, a log and boulder field, a log walk, a stone feature wall and a custom bridge. Also included are entry plazas with a shade structure, benches, fencing, native plantings and new lighting.


"It was an absolute privilege to work with Juli Ordower.  She listened carefully to the feedback and input of the community in designing the Peterson Community Field, and she designed an extraordinary place for kids to play during the regular school year and the community to enjoy on a daily basis.  The field, the natural play space, and the plants all come together in an attractive, cohesive, and unique design that does an excellent job meeting the needs of kids and families." 

-Kate Kane, Former Principal, Peterson Elementary



This project by the Chicago Housing Authority created a new playground and park for the residents of the Princeton Apartments. Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture spearheaded the concept design phase, presenting three distinct options for the new space. Concept A is a traditional, geometric design with a half-court basketball, central lawn area and separate areas for swings and a 2-12 year play structure. Concept B also has a half-court basketball but in a more organic, free flowing design with a combined area for the play equipment. Concept C eliminates the basketball court, instead opting for a senior fitness area and age distinct structures. The stakeholders unanimously voted for Concept B with the addition of senior fitness stations along the pathway. For longevity, the only plantings are trees and lawn and the site furnishings and lightpoles are very durable. Completed in 2021, this park is a long- awaited recreational oasis for the neighborhood.



Hired as a consultant to Briar Patch Landscaping, Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture coordinated the landscape installation at Maggie Daley Park along Chicago’s downtown lakefront. Serving as Project Manager, Juli made sure the shrub, perennial and sod installation at the park followed the plans and specifications of the Landscape Architect, Michael van Valkenburgh. Along with sourcing over 4,000 shrubs, 43,000 perennials, and 283,000 square feet of sod, the job included managing the schedule and logistics with the General Contractor and the Soils and Tree Installation Contractor. The park was completed in the spring of 2015.



The Green Bean Day School and Nursery cares for children between the ages of 6 weeks to 6 months. Their outdoor play space was lacking in stimulating play options so Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture was brought in to create a more nature-based, organic play environment. Among the new elements incorporated into this small recreational space are a sandbox with granite boulders, mushroom and acorn seats, a custom built tree log planter box with native plants and an outdoor storage shed. 



The playground at Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School in Hyde Park celebrates the concept of nature-inspired play.  The whimsical design incorporates several elements including a treehouse, log tunnel, and mushroom-shaped seats that accentuate the “natural” concept. A silhouette of a tree branch flows through the entire poured in place rubber surface, tying the elements together into a whole.


"Our daughters LOVE the Akiba playground! Our youngest runs to the stone harp every chance she gets, and our oldest talks longingly about the playground even when she hasn't been there for months. Thank you for designing such a creative and child-friendly place." 

-Akiba Schechter parent

Photography by Robert R Gigliotti Photography.

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